Some ideas on winning the public mind for labor!

Our recent blog, “Is Labor Losing the Battle for the Public Mind” has generated some interesting comments and ideas.

Fortunately, none of them spent time playing the “blame game” on the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but focused upon how working people and unions should respond to turn the tide.

You can see some of the comments following the blog, including one from my friend David Giffey of Arena, WI, who noted that the voices of those many activists who aren’t union members need to be heard.  He noted that in the last century workers achieved much of their gains through militancy, boycotts and strikes, which seemed have gone out of favor.  To engage the majority of workers in the cause, he said, labor will have to keep its message simple.

Giffey’s call for more inclusivity by labor was echoed by others as well.  Nicholas Hoffman, museum curator in Appleton, was one of many who emailed the author directly with comments.  He called for doing a better job of reaching out to families in rural Wisconsin, who favored Walker heavily.  Those families, too, are facing economic turmoil.

Thomas Martin Sobottke, who writes a regular blog entitled “Struggles for Justice,” wrote:  “I think the labor movement must make any disenfranchised American working person a member of the movement and (then) we go to the streets and demand jobs and a fair wage from those that control them.  Putting down any barrier to union membership and the movement needs to be pursued even further.”

Labor already has the beginnings of efforts to involve workers in nonunion settings, which could be used as the basis for broadening involvement in the causes of working people.  That was suggested by David Newby, president emeritus of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, who mentioned the “Working America” coalition that could broaden its activities, and by Ray MacDonald of the Steelworkers, who reminded us that the Steelworkers have an associate member program.  Other unions, we believe, should be working on similar strategies.

UW-Extension School for Workers prof David Nack observed that Democrat Tom Barrett largely dodged the labor rights’ issue in the campaign.  Nack was correct, of course, and his comments echoed the point of the original blog that “labor” may indeed be perceived as a negative to candidates for public office.  (What a sad commentary on the state known for its progressive history involving workers and labor!)

David Riemer, who unsuccessfully ran against Walker for County Executive and is a former top administrator for both former Governor Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, called for the liberal message to focus on economic security, education, and freedom, all of which he said were “American values” that would lure many voters toward more progressive voting.

Thus the tone of nearly all of those who responded recognized the value of greater inclusivity into the mix.  Can that be achieved?  This blogger thinks so as long as all of us broaden our thinking and open our minds.

Finally, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, offers a suggestion on how the process can begin.  She says that unionists can assist in the effort of an independent union to organize Palermo Pizza in Milwaukee.  Many immigrants are involved in that effort, and already the AFL-CIO and the Steelworkers are assisting.  Others may make donations to the cause.  By reaching out to assist other workers achieve their goals – even if it’s not with “my” union – we can again put the labor movement back in the public mind as a “positive force” for all society.

What do you think?  Ken Germanson, June 8, 2012, Milwaukee WI


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